By Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton/Larry Loyie with Constance Brissenden
Published by Annick Press/Theytus Books
Fatty Legs and Goodbye Buffalo Bay would make excellent companion novels for an intermediate-level novel study. Both books tell the story of residential schools from a young protagonist’s point of view. In Fatty Legs, we follow Margaret, a spirited, clever eight-year-old girl who, despite her parents’ warnings, insists on attending residential school because she longs to read books in English. Once there, she realizes her mistake, but it is too late for her to go home. Margaret finds her nemesis in the nun she calls “The Raven”, and comes to understand that “the Sisters, Brothers and Fathers were not family; they were like owls and ravens raising wrens.” (26) Amidst the daily trials and indignities Margart must overcome, she emerges as a true heroine when she takes on “The Raven” and wins:”The Raven thought she was there to teach me a few things, but in the end, I think it was she who learned a lesson: Be careful what birds you choose to pluck from their nests. A wren can be just as clever as a raven.” (74) Fatty Legs is a true story, and students will enjoy connecting the photographs with their written descriptions as much as they will love the lively and colourful illustrations by Amini-Holmes.
The perfect literary match to Fatty Legs, Goodbye Buffalo Bay evokes a sense of wistful longing for a stolen childhood. Also a true story (Loyie attended St. Bernard Mission residential school), this tale follows Lawrence in his final year of residential school and the challenges he faces as he returns home. Lawrence has difficulty connecting to his family and culture after six years of following the rules of the priests and nuns; “Everything at home was the same, yet it felt strange and different. He was finally free. What did freedom mean?” (69)
After discussing his problems with his grandfather, Lawrence takes his advice to “start remembering what it was like before” in order to “get rid of what is bothering you.” His Grandfather ponders; “I don’t know exactly what they do to children in that school. A lot of them don’t get better. You will.” (76) Lawrence begins his life journey outside of the residential school by working as a firefighter in the bush. By working a variety of jobs, making non-residential school friends, and spending time learning more about his culture and Cree language from his family, Lawrence is able to reconnect with his past and move into the future at the same time. This is a lovely, well-written book about letting go of anger and finding a place for yourself in the world.
Visit Margaret Pokiak-Fenton’s biography and podcast at: http://www.annickpress.com/authors/pokiak-fenton.asp?author=556
Visit Larry Loyie’s website and find study resources for Goodbye Buffalo Bay at: www.firstnationswriter.com